Thursday, January 31, 2002









A belated welcome to the readers of Dack's The Dumb War. Given the ringing endorsement, I feel a little sheepish at my modest output of late. Thankfully Cursor delivers the goods every day.

However, a little bird tells me that this long, but most worthy critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom from the Project on Defense Alternatives comes with the Dack seal of approval...

::Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives: Strange Victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war

Cartoon Funhouse: The Connection does a show on political cartoonists, featuring David Rees (Get Your War On); Ted Rall; and Barbara Brandon-Croft (Where I’m Coming From).

And I'll be the latest person to note that Tom Tomorrow has hopped aboard the weblog juggernaut.

David Gallagher of lightningfield [welcome back] points to some of Mr. Tomorrow's photo galleries: shots of a honeymoon in darkest heartland Americana; a disturbing collection of vintage ads; and a WTC gallery.

::The Connection: The Politics of Cartooning (RealAudio) listen

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The warbloggers' vision of the limits of acceptable expression; a real-world application from our steadfast allies - ie 'the good Muslims' - in Turkey.

Scarcely two months after the European Union praised Turkey for passing new laws protecting freedom of expression, the authorities in Ankara are using anti-terrorism legislation to prosecute [Noam] Chomsky's Turkish publisher.

Fatih Tas of the Aram Publishing House faces a year in prison for daring to print American Interventionism, a collection of Mr Chomsky's recent essays including harsh criticism of Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish minority.

::Tim Cavanaugh, Online Journalism Review: Let Slip the Blogs of War
::Ken Layne, 5 December 2001: "well-known cranks"
::Robert Fisk, Counterpunch: Turkey Targets Chomsky
Last night I was washing my hair, and missed the State of the Union address. I bet it was real good.

The President's speech in a more humane and Flash-animated parallel universe.

Meanwhile, back in that waking nightmare that is our reality...

Osama bin Laden was not mentioned once, al-Qaida only in passing. The speech was clearly aimed at ushering a new phase in the anti-terrorist campaign, in which links with the September 11 attacks will no longer be the criteria for US military action.

. . . Iran has a democratically-elected president and parliament, albeit constrained by a conservative theocracy. A conflict with the US could set back the development of democracy there by decades. It is unlikely to have the support of Europe, which sees Tehran as a regime to be cultivated and encouraged.

. . . As for North Korea, progress was made in talks between Pyongyang and the Clinton administration towards exchanging Korean disarmament in return for economic aid.

Those talks were abandoned by the Bush team so abruptly that it made observers wonder whether the souring of relations was intended to serve as a justification of National Missile Defence (NMD).

The inclusion of North Korea and Iran in the "axis of evil" serves the same purpose, as both have advanced missile programmes which could - several years down the line - provide the sort of threat that NMD is intended to defend against.

::Contract with the Planet: State of the Union (Flash 5 Required) via Cursor
::Julian Borger, The Guardian: Hate of the Union
Margaret Dowd peddles the calico cat rumour, given a new credibility by Ashcroft's pathological prudery...

Mr. Ashcroft had decided to throw the equivalent of a blue burka over the exultant "Minnie Lou," as the statue is fondly nicknamed, after seeing pictures of her breast hovering over his head as he announced plans to fight terrorism. His new spokeswoman, Barbara Comstock, said the drapes, a shade she calls "TV blue," are more photogenic than the statues and the "yellow marbly color of the background."

. . . Everyone here knows that cover-ups are what get you in trouble, but they just keep doing it.

Dick Cheney has pulled a TV blue curtain over Enron and the rest of the energy industry's blueprint for fashioning America's energy policy.

. . . The vice president and president are really concerned about the privacy of power. They want to do what they want to do, and be accountable to no one. The stonewalling on the energy task force and the unilateralism on Camp X-ray are two sides of the same coin.

The theme of Bush I is now the theme of Bush II: Trust us, even if we won't let you verify. We know we're right. We answer to no one.

I, for one, want some answers. Let's start with those calico cats and Enron rats.

::Margaret Dowd, NY Times, A Blue Burka for Justice
::Andrew Tobias, 20 November, 2001: Turns Out It's Not the Black Cats You Have to Watch Our For

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Curtis White takes on Saving Private Ryan

I think a reading can expose this film for what it is, a crypto-fascist work of historical revision. It's not even revision. It's: "Remember what we used to think? About patriotism? The glory of war? Let's think that again, and really mean it, so that it will be harder than hell to dislodge next time." Which is to say, this is a very dangerous movie.

::Curtis White, Context: Saving Private Ryan: Don't try to do no thinkin'!

Monday, January 28, 2002

Those Afghans are causing a lot of headaches for the Americans. They're so primitive they don't even know how to efficiently clear out cluster bomblets...

The cheerful yellow-coloured devices - called bomblets - parachuted to earth from the mother bomb 202 at a time. They are a highly effective killer, deploying, in military parlance, three "kill mechanisms" to slice through the thick armour of tanks, and injure and burn humans.

In the area of Rabat village, half an hour west of Herat, the BLU-97 bomblets have killed 10 people since the bombing ended there in early November.

First, there were the three children from a neighbouring village who wandered over unfamiliar fields to attend a wedding, and thought the small yellow cylinders were toys. By December, the bomblets were killing local farmers frustrated because they could not sow their fields as planting time grew near.

Those farmers won't ever be satisfied. We liberate their nation and all they can think about is planting their fields. They're probably hungry or something. Don't they know we have a grander purpose, a mission on behalf of civilization?

::Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian: Long after the air raids, bomblets bring more death
::Image from United Nations Development Programme

Strange days indeed. The New York Times is so spun out by the Enron debacle that its business section starts reading like The Baffler...

Corporate spin aside, executives do not always prosper most by making their companies great. They can often profit more from creating unrealistic expectations than from delivering consistently impressive results.

Consider two companies. One has a stock price that has appreciated slowly, starting at $20 five years ago and gaining $2 a year, to $30 today. The second company's stock also started at $20 five years ago, then zoomed to $100 after a few years but has since fallen back to $20.

By any reasonable measure, the leaders of the first company have done a better job. Their share price has grown 50 percent, and they have avoided making grandiose predictions that cause Wall Street analysts to set silly targets. The second company has a stock that has underperformed a savings account over the long run, and scores of workers and investors have been burned by false hopes.

Yet if the top executives of both companies had received similar amounts of stock and both sold their shares on a regular schedule, the executives of the second company would actually be ahead. They would have made so much money selling the stock when it was trading near $100 that they would be multimillionaires despite the humbling decline.

. . . when an economic system richly rewards certain behavior, no one should be surprised when that behavior becomes the norm.

Next thing you know, they'll start spinning some communistic nonsense about U.S. CEO's being overpaid.

::David Leonhardt, New York Times: Enron's Way: Pay Packages Foster Spin, Not Results
The latest on that amazingly precise and successful military campaign that ended a month ago...

The Pentagon said on Friday that the raid on Hazar Qadam, 60 miles north of Kandahar, destroyed a huge Taliban arms dump, killing about 15 people. At least 27 "relatively senior" Taliban were captured and taken to an American military detention facility in Kandahar, it said.

Yet villagers yesterday insisted the US troops had been badly misled. They said the victims of the attack at Hazar Qadam were headed by an ethnic-group leader called Haji Sana Gul, who had just disarmed a number of Taliban fighters still holding out in the area.

His brother Bari Gul said the men spent Wednesday night in the local madrassah, or religious seminary. Before dawn the next day US troops swept in, killing several people in the madrassah, including Haji Sana Gul himself.

::Rory McCarthy, US accused of killing anti-Taliban leaders

Friday, January 25, 2002

Tonight's the night for the Big Show. Silt and Superstock, Ms. T's Cabaret (339 West Pender, Vancouver; Doors 8:00). Right now things are in a state of utter chaos but I trust that the spirit of cooperation (and copious amounts of intoxicants) will see us through the evening.

One of the local university papers wrote a cover story about the event, which was great. Except for the typos. And the wrong address for the club. And they neglected to mention what day the show was taking place.

Oh yes, as I write this it's snowing heavily in Vancouver.
A couple weeks back, Blowback was hailed as a 'haven of flourescent idiocy' by a collaborative weblog called Libertarian Samizdata. I had my quibbles with their content, but had to admit they had an intriguing arrangement and a very cool name.

I'm very excited to see a new collaboration has been developed by Dr. Menlo: American Samizdat plies a similar concept and moniker, and a line-up of webloggers that is simply [insert your favorite superlative here].

This is the grooviest supergroup I've seen since The Word.

And I see jimwich has the exquisite good taste to follow the battles between Saskatchewan farmers and Monsanto. I'll take that as a good sign for tonight's show.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Young Somalis packing ramshackle cinemas to watch bootlegged copies of Black Hawk Down cheer as they see Somali gunmen shooting down American helicopters and killing Rangers.

. . . The film coincides with increasing speculation that American forces may soon be involved in Somalia again because al-Qaeda sympathisers are believed to be hiding in the country. Most residents would rather see America returning as a friend, helping to rebuild a nation that has had no government since 1991.

“There is nothing left to bomb in Somalia. It is ruined,” said Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle, programme director of the Centre for Research and Dialogue, a peace institute in Mogadishu. “Why break down the door when you can turn the key?” He also gave warning that if Washington opted to use its old ally Ethiopia as some sort of proxy army, it would unite the Somali clans against it. “If they send Ethiopians, every Somali will go and get his gun.”

::Jonathan Clayton, Times of London: Young Somalis cheer their film victory over US via Dack

The US government is blocking an international drive led by Britain to increase aid for the world's poorest countries in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks.

. . . Washington is already one of the least generous donors - despite being the world's largest economy - devoting just 0.1% of national output to its international aid effort.

Britain and other, more generous donors, had hoped that the renewed US interest in multilateral action during the war on Afghanistan would help bring about a change of heart regarding aid within the Bush adminstration.

[I just need a quick break at this point to laugh hysterically.]

The American attitude has provoked disquiet among fellow donor countries and outrage among the development charities.

"It seems the US will only tolerate multilateralism à la carte, and development, global redistribution and the interests of the poor are now off the menu," said Henry Northover, a policy adviser at Cafod, the Catholic aid agency.

Instead of discussing increased aid budgets, Washington wants the conference to focus on how poor countries can improve their own economic performance through further market liberalisation.

The administration should be commended. It takes a genuine strength of will to keep pushing the Argentine model for the world's poorest nations in 2002.

Then again, these are the same folks who are still pushing the Enron model as America's energy strategy.

::Charlotte Denny, The Guardian: US blocks Brown-led drive for increase in aid
::Guardian Special Report: State of Siege in Argentina
::Slate cartoon gallery: Bush's Energy Plan

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Historians aren't supposed to make predictions, but that doesn't stop P.M. Carpenter of the History News Network from venturing a few...

My guess is 6 months from now we'll see nary a word in the press about Enron, its pack of thieving executives, and its financially incestuous relationship with virtually the entire administrative apparatus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No matter how sordid the reports grow, they soon will drift from the pages of the press as though nothing ever happened. So we might as well ponder the story's obituary now. While its pathology is a bit indirect, it's still easily diagnosed.

It's no secret--in fact, it's touted--that George II's prime ministerial sidekick, Dr. Karl Strange-Rove, has had his boss reading presidential history books so the big guy can learn how to be a really, really good president or at minimum look like a really good president. I'd wager that as Karl was sifting through White House library books filed under "Niccolo Machiavelli and Friends," he stumbled across a volume containing this wisdom from Harry Truman's secretary of state, Dean Acheson: "Bipartisan foreign policy is the ideal for the executive, because you cannot run this damned country any other way except by fixing the whole organization so it doesn't work the way it is supposed to work. Now the way to do that is to say politics stops at the seaboard--and anyone who denies that postulate is a son-of-a-bitch and a crook and not a true patriot. Now if people will swallow that, then you're off to the races."

. . . Odds are that in this go-around George will scoop up more than a half-million bucks from the most unconscionable frauds in American business history, follow much of their friendly policy advice, and walk away from the whole sorry mess with nothing but the money. That's the liberal media for you.

One thing, though, is pretty much bankable. Once the "war" in Afghanistan draws dangerously close to an end or some "partisan witch hunt" crawls dangerously close to a beginning, I wouldn't give a plugged Argentinean peso for the prospects of any country that so much as ever winked at the Taliban regime. It should first look up, then duck, because raining bombs and Marine incursions are about the only things in its future. The administration will make sure of that, just to help keep any bothersome Enron stories off the front page and away from the evening's headline news.

::P.M. Carpenter, History News Network: No, My Predictions for Bush Can’t Possibly Turn Out True, Can They? via Liberal Arts Mafia

Is it possible? Could Smilin' Dick Cheney's old firm be following Enron into financial ruin? Thankfully, no matter what happens he's taken great care to safeguard his own interests.

Rumors swirled earlier this month that the world's largest oil services provider was on the verge of bankruptcy. As the company's shares hit a 15-year low, Halliburton took the highly unusual step of issuing a statement insisting that all was well.

"We're not even close to being insolvent," said Cedric Burgher, vice president of investor relations. "We're a healthy company."

Healthy, that is, except for paying out more than $150 million in recent damages for asbestos cases and having about 260,000 related lawsuits still pending.

And healthy for a company whose stock closed Friday at $10.06, a far cry from its 52-week high of $49.25.

And healthy for a company whose accounting firm is Andersen, the same outfit that badly bungled its handling of Enron's books, destroying important corporate documents and leaving shareholders twisting in the wind.

. . . Still, Cheney got out just in time. When he exited as CEO, Halliburton's shares were trading near an all-time high of $54. Cheney, severing his financial ties to the company, raked in $22 million cashing in his stock options.

I can't think of a better man to be the architect of America's energy strategy. If only those unpatriotic liberals would lay off, then Smilin' Dick could emerge from the cave and get back to taking care of business.

::David Lazarus, SF Gate: Cheney's old firm on shaky ground via Media Whores Online
::Image from Center for Responsive Politics


::Knut Royce and Nathaniel Heller, The Public i: Cheney Led Halliburton To Feast at Federal Trough: State Department Questioned Deal With Firm Linked to Russian Mob

Monday, January 21, 2002

Camp X-Ray seems more and more a calculated American effort to really creep out the rest of the world...

[The treatment of prisoners] undermines the claim by the US to be fighting al-Qa'ida on behalf of the "partnership of nations" and in the name of universal human values. It may not have been the intention to subject the prisoners in Camp X-Ray to torture by sensory deprivation, but the US has an extraordinary inability to realise how such pictures will be seen around the world – as proven by the fact that they were taken for and issued by the US Navy itself.

The evidence of the use of torture by US troops in Vietnam was one of the causes of the collapse of the moral case for that war. Yet since 11 September, the US administration and media have seriously discussed the possibility of torturing terrorists to extract information about future threats.

The need to maintain international support for the campaign against terrorism does not seem to feature in America's insulated discussions about what to do with those detained in Afghanistan. Hence the inability to see that harsh treatment, designed to impress US domestic opinion that no chances are taken with security, will be read as deliberate humiliation in parts of the world which might sympathise with Osama bin Laden. In particular, the forced shaving of prisoners, on grounds of hygiene because they are "infested with lice and other parasites," according to one Pentagon official, takes the unnecessary risk of offending Muslims who could otherwise be persuaded that al-Qa'ida has hijacked their religion.

::The Independent, Bound, shaved, deprived of sight and sound - how to lose the moral high ground
::Image from The Guardian


::David Charter and Sam Lister, London Times: Camp X-Ray could split allies via Dack
::Nicholas Watt, Richard Norton-Taylor and Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian: Camp X-Ray row threatens first British split with US

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Seymour Hersh has written an account of last November's Pakistani airlift of thousands of enemy fighters from the besieged Afghan city of Kunduz.

American intelligence officials and high-ranking military officers said that Pakistanis were indeed flown to safety, in a series of nighttime airlifts that were approved by the Bush Administration. The Americans also said that what was supposed to be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control, and, as an unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters managed to join in the exodus. "Dirt got through the screen," a senior intelligence official told me. Last week, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld did not respond to a request for comment.

That's Hersh's hook, but most of the story is concerned with the implications of the airlift on Pakistan's standoff with India (who are depicted as suffering from 'jilted-lover syndrome.') Indian intelligence agents insist that many of the evacuated were eventually funneled into Kashmir, and ended up fueling the conflict over the disputed territory.

Hersh also furnishes some bleak assessments of the situation from some old regional hands.

Inevitably, any conversation about tension between India and Pakistan turns to the issue of nuclear weapons. Both countries have warheads and the means to deliver them. (India's capabilities, conventional and nuclear, are far greater—between sixty and ninety warheads—while Pakistan is thought to have between thirty and fifty.) A retired C.I.A. officer who served as station chief in South Asia told me that what he found disturbing was the "imperfect intelligence" each country has as to what the other side's intentions are. "Couple that with the fact that these guys have a propensity to believe the worst of each other, and have nuclear weapons, and you end up saying, 'My God, get me the hell out of here.' " Milton Bearden agreed that the I.S.I. and RAW are "equally bad" at assessing each other.

::Seymour Hersh, New Yorker: The Getaway

Friday, January 18, 2002

Curiously enough, Canada is not taking part in the British-led international peacekeeping force, but instead has taken on a phoney 'combat role' under US command. This presents a challenge to Canada's self-satisfied image of itself.

At a special parliamentary committee meeting, some MPs said it would go against Canadian values to allow the country's soldiers to turn over prisoners to U.S. forces.

"We can't outsource our moral obligations," Liberal MP John Godfrey said, adding that the prisoners are "still human beings, and before we commit, before we approve, we've got to sort this out."

The British-led International Stabilization Assistance Force inside Afghanistan plans to transfer any prisoners it captures around Kabul to Afghan authorities.

But Canadian troops are working under the United States, which considers captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters to be illegal combatants, rather than prisoners of war. Critics said that means they are not automatically subject to the humane standards of treatment prescribed in the Geneva Convention, placing Canada's military in the awkward position of having to decide whether it is morally acceptable to turn its prisoners over to the U.S. military.

For those of you unfamiliar with Canadian culture, this is merely the traditional rite of moaning about soveriegnty before we acquiesce to whatever it is the US wants us to do. It is a treasured part of our national identity.

Bonus question: If the captives don't count as prisoners of war, as the U.S. claims, then why have Americans been so insistent from the start on calling this a war, rather than a police action?

::Daniel LeBlanc, Globe and Mail: PoW storm intensifies, troops join U.S. force
::Rick Salutin, Globe and Mail: Hello Kandahar, goodbye Frank Shuster

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Sure, there's a lot of dead Afghans, but here on the home front everything has changed...

After Sept. 11, says Laura Bush, divorce is down, weddings are up and 'families have come together.'

In fact, fewer folks are taking vows and more are splitting up, says the available data, and hounds are twice as likely as husbands to get wifely attention.

After Sept. 11, says Colin Powell, secretary of state and once the nation's top soldier, more Americans want to be all they can be.

Maybe, if they can be right where they are. Enlistment figures haven't budged.

After Sept. 11, are more Americans finding religion? Definitely, people tell pollsters. Are they going to church more? No, say the same respondents.

After Sept. 11, says just about everyone, Americans got a little nicer.

Except for that murder spike in Washington, D.C.

And the shoplifting in Denver.

And the looming crisis at the charities.

And the baby boomlet? Urban mythlet.

On the other hand, I understand you folks in the US are still flying the flags...

::Ron Kampeas, AP: Facts Find Sept. 11 Myths Misleading
::Molly Ivins, Chicago Tribune via Common Dreams: In Total Disregard Toward the Poor
::The Onion, Area Man Not Exactly Sure When To Take Down American Flags

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

. . . the potential benefits for the US are enormous: growing military hegemony in one of the few parts of the world not already under Washington's sway, expanded strategic influence at Russia and China's expense, pivotal political clout and - grail of holy grails - access to the fabulous, non-Opec oil and gas wealth of central Asia. If the Afghans behave themselves, they even may get to run the pipeline.

::Simon Tisdall, The Guardian: Reaching the parts other empires could not reach

It's quite touching, really. The British seemed to think that the American government gave a rat's ass about the Geneva Convention, and appear to be genuinely disturbed to learn otherwise.

Britain has stepped up the pressure on the US to provide assurances about the fate of the captured al-Qaida and Taliban fighters - at least three of whom are believed to be UK citizens - held in a special prison at the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"We are requesting further information about legal representatives, legal rights, how the US plans to prosecute the detainees, possible sentences, and what they could be charged with," a Foreign Office official said.

Of course, it's not just the government that has dispensed with such trifles as international law and fundamental human rights...

Short of offering a blank sheet of paper, it is difficult to convey the supreme indifference with which the fate of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is being greeted in the United States.

The Sunday newspapers, given the chance to stick their teeth into the story not related to terror since September 11, were full of the Enron affair.

The talk shows, even the serious ones, used the issue mainly for light relief. "I think the idea of being sedated for a 27-hour flight ought to be an option the airlines might want to start offering," said a speaker on CNN's Capital Gang.

Maybe with sedatives I could endure the Capital Gang...

::Richard Norton-Taylor and Michael White, The Guardian: Britain presses for more Guantanamo assurances
::Matthew Engel, The Guardian: Out of sight, out of mind, but will they stay out of court?

In March 1993, Enron hired Bush's Commerce secretary, Robert A. Mosbacher, and his secretary of State, James A. Baker III, to line up contracts for Enron around the world. As Enron's representative, Baker--later George W.'s Florida election strategist--even went on a trip accompanying the ex-president to Kuwait to do big business in the nation Bush had fought the Gulf War to save.

The trip was criticized by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who said that he had turned down millions in proffered deals to do business in Kuwait after the war.

"I represent 540,000 American men and women, not some private company," said Schwarzkopf. "They were willing to die in Kuwait. Why should I profit from their sacrifice?"

::Robert Scheer, LA Times via CommonDreams, Bush to Lay: What Was Your Name Again?

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Geraldo Rivera. [Insert punchline here]

Some passages from my favorite piece of
Geraldo-bashing I've come across lately, from Richard Roeper...

The guy was out there like a contestant on "Survivor" ("I haven't had a shower in two weeks!") crossed with Ted Nugent ("I have to defend whether I'm carrying a six-shooter? It's just ridiculous!"), filing reports that made him sound like the offspring of an unholy one-night threesome between Clint Eastwood, Ernest Hemingway and Janet Reno.

. . . Just like a bounty hunter, isn't he? Some reporters go for that objectivity thing and take it to an extreme--but not Geraldo. On the same day he filed for "Hannity & Colmes," he told Britt Hume that "the rat [bin Laden, of course] deserted the sinking ship five days ago during that phony cease-fire. ... Hopefully, he won't be a free man for long."

American military leaders are less biased when discussing the hunt for bin Laden. Check out Rivera's cheerleading as he described how a bin Laden stronghold in Tora Bora had been penetrated:

"We had a great day yesterday, the United States, the good guys, a tremendous victory. ...It was a beautiful thing to see, especially after the ebb and flow of the battle over the last several days, and it was especially appropriate that on the third-month anniversary of Sept. 11th that Osama bin Laden is learning about that old American saying, 'What goes around comes around.'...What we smelled today is the smell of victory."

Oh man. Lt. Col. Kilgore lives! "You smell that, son? Smells like ... victory!"

But lest you think Geraldo was only interested in the scent of blood, he showed a lot of heart, too--as he was quick to tell us on another edition of "Hannity & Colmes." Noting that the Afghan freedom fighters were woefully underdressed for the brutal winter, Rivera informed Fox News Channel viewers that the "Fox patrol" had arranged for a truck to deliver "100 pair of socks, so we're going to start clothing these warriors from the bottom up ... so we can rest easy at least their feet'll be warm when they go into battle ... it's the beginning of our private compassionate, you know, help for our allies."

Well, not exactly private, but if Geraldo doesn't toot his own horn, who will? Besides me, I mean.

He is a warrior. He is a cowboy. He is a courageous journalist and a compassionate sock-giver. He holds his head high, even as sniper fire nearly parts his hair and media sniping bites at his the butt. [sic]

Some of Geraldo's journalistic triumphs from the 'hallowed ground' of Afghanistan have been collected by Fox and are brought to you by the miracle of streaming video.

::Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times: Geraldo's hunt: That's entertainment

The Enron debacle seems to have roused the Washington scandalmonster from its slumbers. Like any hibernating beast, it wakes up ravenously hungry and more than a little cranky. In the current frenzy, it's no simple matter to connect the dots, especially since everybody has an opinion about 'what Enron really means.'

Craig from BookNotes has been all over this story lately, and his page is always worth a look. And Cursor has assembled yet another fine special feature, Enron Field, complementing its news digest with, among other useful resources, a link to the Work at Enron page and a piece by Fortune speculating which major corporation (Ford? Hewlett-Packard? Gap?) might be the next to melt down.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman, who's been laying the boots to Bush's shady economic policies since the Republican primaries, isn't about to pass up his own chance to suggest what Enron really means:

On the face of it, the sudden political storm over Enron is puzzling. After all, the Bush administration didn't save the company from bankruptcy. But then why did the administration dissemble so long about its contacts with Enron? Why did George W. Bush make the absurd claim that Enron's C.E.O., Kenneth Lay, opposed him in his first run for governor, and that the two men got to know each other only after that race? And why does the press act as if there may be a major scandal brewing?

Because the administration fears, and the press suspects, that the latest revelations in the Enron affair will raise the lid on crony capitalism, American style.

. . . while Enron has imploded, other energy companies retain the administration's ear. Just days before the latest Enron revelations, the administration signaled its intention to weaken pollution rules on power plants; late last week it announced its decision to proceed with a controversial plan to store radioactive waste in Nevada. Each of these decisions was worth billions to companies with very strong connections to Mr. Bush. declared, in its story about the nuclear waste decision, that "one group of major energy-business political donors just hit the jackpot."

::Cursor, Enron Field
::Enron, Work at Enron
::Herb Greenberg, Fortune: Caught Off Balance
::Paul Krugman, NY Times: Crony Capitalism, USA

Monday, January 14, 2002

Time to check in on that amazingly effective military campaign that the Americans wrapped up a few weeks ago...

"All the mountains are shaking," says Khali Gul from Kaskai, a small hamlet a few hundred metres from the Americans' target. "We are very afraid of these planes. We just want this to stop."

In the capital, Kabul, delegations come and go. Aid workers draw up charts for reconstruction; diplomats leave their calling cards with the interim government. As America's war on terror entered its 100th day yesterday, the world speculated on its next venue: will it be Somalia or Sudan; Yemen or Iraq?

Here, in the mountains of Zhawar, there is only war. US warplanes are destroying, day after day, one of the last redoubts of the Taliban. Overnight, the bombing was so heavy the windows shook in Khost, a town 22 miles from America's latest theatre of war.

Hidden campaign

January 7 Two air strikes on Zhawar Kili. A navy F-14 drops two guided bombs on a building believed to be part of a terrorist training complex. Later in the day a navy F-18 drops two bombs on a bunker.

January 10 Nine bombers and tactical aircraft drop guided bombs on buildings, caves and tunnels in Zhawar Kili

January 11-13 : Continued bombing of Zhawar Kili using B-52 and B-1 long range bombers, and Navy F-18 strike aircraft

January 14 Heaviest bombing of the week, according to reports from Zhawar Kili. The Pentagon says it is trying to destroy caves to prevent al-Qaida or the Taliban using them to regroup. A spokesman says the operations at the camp are complete, and the campaign will shift to cave and bunker complexes elsewhere

::Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian: Day 100: another raid in the bombing war without end via Dack

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Blowback is dedicated to elevating mediocrity to modest heights, which is harder work than it sounds. It takes elbowgrease and browsweat to cobble recycled news and ill-formed opinion together into an appalling package; a formidable challenge to mount a blemish on the stately edifice that is blogspot.

Sometimes it just seems easier to give the whole thing up.

Today my sagging spirit was lifted by learning that not only am I a link-bearer for alienated left-wing bloggers everywhere, but I have also been inducted into the Havens of fluorescent idiocy hall of fame. The latter honour is an exclusive one, shared only with the New Statesman, Monkeyfist's Chomsky Archive, and ZNet. Our Haven is hosted by a nimble weblog dedicated to 'a critically rational libertarian perspective' and 'the libertarian meta-context for the future', vocabulary that strikes me as disturbingly Marxist in its tone.

In any event, I am squirming with delight to have caught the withering eye of the 'anti-idiotarian' movement, and I welcome and celebrate you all. I hope I might offer you some small measure of self-satisfaction, here in my untidy yet cozy little love-nest of subversion...
That benefit concert I'm organizing, the one I've been shamelessly flogging, just got a nice write-up in the local alternative weekly.

Friday, January 11, 2002

Here's a great example of the New York Times presuming to speak for the whole of humankind, in the interests of preserving consensus reality...

Although no one has suggested that Mr. Bush has done anything wrong, the connections between his presidency and Enron are uncomfortably close.

Excuse me, 'no one'?

::Don Van Natta, Jr, New York Times: A Familiar Capital Script

Thursday, January 10, 2002

I don't like conspiracy theories. I wish people in power wouldn't keep making them necessary...

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, reports surfaced of Carlyle's involvement with the Saudi Binladin Group, the $5 billion construction business run by Osama's half-brother Bakr. The bin Laden family invested $2 million in the Carlyle Partners II fund, which includes in its portfolio United Defense and other defense and aerospace companies. On October 26, the Carlyle Group severed its relationship with the bin Laden family in what officials termed a mutual decision. Mr. Bush Sr. and Mr. Major have been to Saudi Arabia on behalf of Carlyle as recently as last year, and according to reports, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently looking into the flow of money from the bin Laden family. Carlyle officials declined to answer any questions regarding their activities in Saudi Arabia.

. . . We may not see Osama bin Laden's brothers at Carlyle's investor conferences any more, but business will go on as usual for the biggest old boys network around. As Mr. Snow puts it, "Carlyle will always have to defend itself and will never be able to convince certain people that they aren't capable of forging murky backroom deals. George Bush's father does profit when the Carlyle Group profits, but to make the leap that the president would base decisions on that is to say that the president is corrupt."

...and no one is saying that. Just read the New York Times.

Carlyle officials bristle at such talk. They described their recent stock sale as just plain good business that benefited a wide array of investors, including pension funds like those of California's state employees.

Carlyle spokesman Chris Ullman said that neither the company nor its managers, directors and advisors have ever personally lobbied for . . . government contracts now in the hands of United Defense and other Carlyle subsidiaries and investments.

Of Carlucci, Carlyle's board chairman, and his friendship with the current Defense secretary, Ullman said: "I assure you he doesn't lobby. That's the last thing he'd do. You'd have to know Carlucci to know he'd never do that, and you'd have to know Rumsfeld to know it wouldn't matter."

Well, if a Carlyle spokesman is prepared to vouch for the character of the principals involved, that's good enough for me.

Imagine... a world where you 'have to know' people like Carlucci and Rumsfeld in order to know what does and doesn't matter?

::Dan Briody, Red Herring:Carlyle's Way
::Mark Fineman, LA Times: Arms Buildup Enriches Firm Staffed by Big Guns
It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat. It's not about oil. Repeat...

The United States' new special envoy to Kabul once lobbied for the Taliban and worked for an American oil company that sought concessions for pipelines in Afghanistan.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, has arrived in Kabul amid much publicity. As the representative of the country that put the new government in power, he has a highly influential position.

In one of his first press conferences, Mr Khalilzad condemned the Taliban as sponsors of terrorism and vowed the US would continue the military campaign until they and their allies in Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network are eradicated.

But in 1997, as a paid adviser to the oil multinational Unocal, he took part in talks with Taliban officials regarding the possibility of building highly lucrative gas and oil pipelines. He had drawn up a risk analysis report for the project that would have exploited the natural reserves of the region, estimated to be the world's second largest after the Persian Gulf.

::Kim Sengupta and Andrew Gumbel, The Independent: New US envoy to Kabul lobbied for Taliban oil rights

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Oilman or President? You decide.

The Bush administration is walking away from a $1.5 billion eight- year government-subsidized project to develop high-mileage gasoline- fueled vehicles. Instead it is throwing its support behind a plan that the Energy Department and the auto industry have devised to develop hydrogen-based fuel cells to power the cars of the future, administration and industry officials said yesterday.

. . . Experts say that commercial production of cars with fuel- cell engines is 10 to 20 years away.

::New York Times, 'U.S. Ends Car Plan on Gas Efficiency; Looks to Fuel Cells'

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

Does anyone believe that the status of Afghan women will change greatly after the first photo-op schools for girls, with a few hundred token students, have been adequately featured in our press? Or that we will ever hear much about anything in Afghanistan once we have destroyed what we came to destroy?

. . . The point of the propaganda effort on women's rights was that the subject should be on people's minds when it counted, when our bombs were blowing the limbs off peasants. Aroused concern in America over those rights blunted potential criticism by middle-class women to the bombing. It made the sensibilities of soccer moms safe for Bush. And, like all the best propaganda, it started with truth.

::John Chuckman, Counterpunch: 'Dark Tales from the Ministry of Truth'

A White House spokesman said later that Mr. Bush meant no disrespect to the Pakistani people by referring to them as "Pakis."

::I read it in my morning paper...

Monday, January 07, 2002

Commander Matthew Klee, a spokesman at the US central command in Tampa, Florida, had reassuring news: "Follow-on reporting indicates that there was no collateral damage."

Some of the things his follow-on reporters missed: bloodied children's shoes and skirts, bloodied school books, the scalp of a woman with braided grey hair, butter toffees in red wrappers, wedding decorations.

::Rory Carroll, The Guardian: Bloody evidence of US blunder via Dack

Friday, January 04, 2002

A few kind souls have noted my lower output in this space of late. I have the usual excuses. I have also been occupied organizing a benefit/protest rock show here in Vancouver. I've never done anything remotely like it, and organization isn't exactly my strong suit, so it's turned into quite a mammoth task.

The show is intended to raise money and attract attention to the plight of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser. Percy had the bad luck to own land next to a field sown with Monsanto's genetically modified canola, which subsequently cross-pollinated with his own seed. In a just world, Monsanto would have to provide reparations to Percy. In reality, Monsanto sued him, and if that isn't galling enough, they won. They are doing their best to make an example of him, and send a message: 'buy our seed, or we will CRUSH you.'

Percy is a scrapper though, and he's fighting the case on appeal. But he's already spent about $200,000 of his own money, and the odds are stacked against him. So some friends of mine in the bands Superstock (I was their first and worst drummer) and Silt are putting on a benefit show on January 25th, in Vancouver, at Ms. T's Cabaret. We're hoping to raise a little money and more importantly to attract some media attention. So far, I've been amazed at the response among the local activists we have contacted, and the media seem intrigued... but there's a lot that needs to be done.

If you are in the neighborhood, or if you know someone who is, we'd love to see you there. Please spread the word. We need all the help we can get, so advice or assistance of any kind is welcome. If you are elsewhere, and would like to know more or wish to make a Paypal contribution to Schmeiser's defense fund, check out his website. Environmentally and politically minded webloggers might consider plugging Percy's page...

And as if we needed additional proof that Monsanto are among the scum of the earth (though they failed to make Multinational Monitor's list of the 10 worst corporations of 2001), the Washington Post yesterday published an interesting tale:

...for nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents -- many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" -- show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.

::Rock Against Monsanto (Promo Page) Friday, January 25th. Ms. T's Cabaret, Vancouver
::Monsanto vs. Schmeiser (
::Multinational Monitor, Corporations Behaving Badly: The Ten Worst Corporations of 2001
::Michael Grunwald, Washington Post: Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution
Michael Kinsley, the uber-weenie, on the perils of weeniedom in an atmosphere which is choking off polite weenie dissent...

John Ashcroft can relax because people have been listening to their Inner Ashcroft. I know this for a fact because I'm one of them. As a writer and editor, I have been censoring myself and others quite a bit since Sept. 11. By "censoring," I mean deciding not to write or publish things for reasons other than my own judgment of their merits. What reasons? Sometimes it has been a sincere feeling that an ordinarily appropriate remark is inappropriate at this extraordinary moment. Sometimes it is genuine respect for readers who might feel that way even if I don't. But sometimes it is simple cowardice.

. . . If you don't watch what you say, you risk getting run over by the Great American Umbrage Machine. The U.S. political system protects freedom of speech from formal suppression better than any other nation on earth. But American culture is less tolerant of aberrant views and behavior than many others, and that tolerance has eroded further since Sept. 11. And as conservative culture warriors like to point out—or, indeed, complain (as in the political correctness debate)—a society's norms are set by the culture as much as by the political system. In a country like Great Britain, the legal protections for free speech are weaker than ours, but the social protections are stronger. They lack a First Amendment, but they have thicker skin and a greater acceptance of eccentricity of all sorts.

I tend to give Kinsley credit for being slightly sharper than the average weenie, and in this column he vindicates my faith in him. He has the courage to confess to his cowardice. He ends the piece by vowing to stop being such a weenie, and here's hoping that we can expect more spine from our weenies in the near future...

::Michael Kinsley, Slate: 'Listening to Our Inner Ashcroft: The right not to watch what you say'

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Another day, another US denial of civilian deaths in the liberated Hindu Kush,
fresh corpses and reports from the British press notwithstanding...

Trying to hold the government together will be a key task, and the US air raids are among many issues threatening to split the interim administration.

Paktia, just south-west of the Tora Bora cave complex, is a focus of current bombing because it is a suspected hideout of any fighters, including Osama bin Laden, who may have escaped last month's US pounding.

A Qalaye Niazi villager, Janat Gul, told Reuters he was the sole person from his 24-member family to survive Sunday's pre-dawn attack by helicopters and jets. "There are no al-Qaida or Taliban people here," he insisted. Haji Saifullah, head of the tribal council, invited US forces to inspect the village, claiming 107 civilians died, including women and children.

It's been nearly a month since Marc Herold assembled his report estimating that the civilian body count in Afghanistan had exceeded that of the September 11th attacks. So far, the response has been a collective shrug from the desktop warriors of the mainstream media. After all, they note, the Pentagon has denied the existence of widespread casualties, and (everyone repeat after the All-Knowing Rumsfeld) 'the reports cannot be independently verified'. Fog of war and all that...

Cursor has assembled a highly readable presentation of Herold's report. Look and decide how credible it is for yourself. When comparing its reliability with the mainstream view of this amazingly precise bombing campaign, consider the recent American denials of unintended deaths in Naka, the allied tribal elder convoy, and the village of Kamo Ado. In each case mounds of dead bodies, a handful of western journalists witness the carnage, and the US insists that 'nothing happened'. The NY Times dutifully deems it unfit to print.

We expect the Pentagon to lie. They have a war to win. But the willingness of the American media to perpetrate the deception is distressing, if unsurprising. It represents a simpering submission to the dictates of Power and mocks the very idea of a free press. It renders them (and us) complicit in the deaths of very real human beings, most of whom guilty of nothing except enduring a miserable existence in one of the worst places on earth.

We don't bother to call them collateral damage anymore. They aren't even worthy of euphemism. They simply don't exist.

::Cursor, Civilian Death Watch: America Evens the Score
::Rory Carroll, The Guardian: 'US accused of killing over 100 villagers in air strike'
::Rory Carroll, The Guardian, 28 Dec 2001: 'Deaths blamed on US blunder'
::Carroll J. Williams, LA Times, 23 Dec 2001: 'U.S. Tones Down Denials of a Mistake'
::Richard Lloyd Parry. The Independent, 4 Dec 2001: 'A village is destroyed. And America says nothing happened'

::The Spiders | Part 2 via randomWalks
The war to save civilization, waged by God-fearing, freedom-loving titans on the hallowed ground of Afghanistan, demonstrates its commitment to humanity at 'the slaughterhouse'...

The children were not playing, not even crying, and many were too weak to walk. Some sucked at their clothes and hair, seeking nutrition anywhere. Others lay in bundles on the ground. Old women stretched out hands, fingers blackened and eaten away by frostbite.

Walking through, hands grabbed at me. "A tent", "a sheet of plastic", "a piece of bread", came the pleas, voiced through parched lips while women thrust small babies at me, sobbing. Not one had any food; all claimed not to have eaten for more than a week.

Of course, we never claimed to be into nation building.

There is anger that the outside world keeps talking about Afghanistan yet seems to them to be focusing only on ousting the Taliban and Osama bin Laden rather than tackling the conditions which led to them taking over the country.

"When the Taliban fell we thought the international community would help us," complained Zarha. "I'm so angry and depressed I even dream of leaving my children here and walking away. If you are a mother can you imagine ever saying that?"

Pushing her veil off her hair, Bibi Gul said: "Now I can show my face whereas under the Taliban I wouldn't dare walk around like this or I would be beaten. But what is the use of that if every night you go to bed with empty stomachs?

Civilian casualities have been minimal due to the amazing precision of the bombing, and now the beneficence of the great western democracies is becoming apparent to the liberated Afghan people, who are learning just how much we care...

Forced to make do outside the camp itself, the newcomers pitch whatever shelter they can muster on a barren plain littered with human waste. Families without any shelter are forced to dig foxholes in the frozen earth to escape the biting wind. The lucky ones have a few tattered blankets or torn plastic sheets as cover.

A stone's throw from the foxholes is one of the many graveyards on the camp's edges. The small size of the graves is clear evidence that most of the buried are children. With the coming of the winter snow, the number of graves will grow.

. . . While the west was striking at the Taliban, many in Maslakh kept a keen ear to the radio, listening for updates. With little fighting in Herat province, they expected a quick response from western governments. Aid was thought to be on its way. But with next to nothing showing up, they feel bitter and let down.

"You are just taking pictures," one woman at the camp said to me. "You are not here to help. We can't eat pictures. We are dying. We need food and medicine."

::Christina Lamb, The Telegraph: They call this 'the slaughterhouse'
::Doug McKinlay, The Guardian: Refugees left in the cold at 'slaughterhouse' camp